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Budget ‘Groundhog Day’

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Key federal crossbenchers aren’t expecting major breakthroughs on the budget when parliament returns this week, with one saying negotiations will be a bit like groundhog day.

Parliament resumes on Tuesday after the winter break, with the coalition still struggling to sell its unpopular budget to the Senate.

Independent Nick Xenophon said government discussions with the crossbench would continue, but added: “I can’t imagine there’ll be any significant breakthroughs in this coming week”.

“I get the feeling that this coming week will be a bit like groundhog day,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann have both raised the spectre of higher taxes if savings such as the GP co-payment, welfare reform and university deregulation aren’t passed by parliament.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne also refused to rule out cuts to university research funding if its plans to deregulate fees are rejected.

Family First senator Bob Day questioned the government’s sales job, saying its tactics so far “left a little bit to be desired”.

Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm believes the government is taking time to “learn how to negotiate”, with few of their budget measures listed for debate in parliament.

“As a government overall they are still really not in the negotiating frame of mind … so I think perhaps they’re giving themselves time to do that,” he told ABC radio.

Labor’s finance spokesman Tony Burke seized on government warnings of higher taxes as proof of what they were planning in the future.

“Mathias Cormann has been their most disciplined performer and he wouldn’t say this unless Tony Abbott seriously had plans to introduce a raft of new taxes,” he told ABC radio.

Mr Burke described the tax threat as “more about extortion than it is about governing”.

“This bizarre game where they’re saying if you don’t vote for an unfair budget, we’ll come up with something even more unfair,” he said.

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